State Department Launches Project for Women in Public Service

By Theresa Minton-Eversole Jan 6, 2012

The U.S. State Department in collaboration with the Seven Sister Colleges of Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Smith and Wellesley, has launched an initiative to increase the number of women in public service.

Forty women from 37 countries who are elected officials, leaders of nongovernmental organizations and civil society activists traveled to the United States to participate in the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program. Following the exchange, the State Department hosted a three-day inaugural colloquium for the Women in Public Service Project Dec. 15-17, 2011, in Washington, D.C. The colloquium brought together policy-makers and leading thinkers who collaborated with their American counterparts on ways in which to bridge barriers facing women in public service and discussed ways in which to strengthen women’s roles in public service.

“Women have to be part of the future,” said Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton in a statement announcing the initiative. “As constitutions are created, as political parties are organized, as elections are waged and won, nobody can claim a democratic future if half the population is marginalized or even prevented from participating. We must support the rise of women leaders because, frankly, they are more likely to have first-hand knowledge and understanding of the challenges women face. This is going to require legal change, it’s going to require political will, and it’s going to require cultural and behavioral changes.”

Those involved in the Women in Public Service Project envision a world in which political and civic leadership is at least 50 percent women by 2050. They are committed through the partnership to building the infrastructure and to starting the conversations necessary to achieve this vision. The project’s goals are to:

Challenge the world community to identify, create and advance a new generation of women committed to public service.

Bring together thought leaders, educators and public servants from around the world, as well as members of the private and nonprofit sectors, who wish to take up this challenge.

Identify and address the obstacles that prevent more women from committing to a life of public service and political leadership.

Explore creative solutions that will increase the number of young women who aspire and are empowered to pursue a career in public service.

Make recommendations for implementing those solutions at all levels of political involvement around the world.

Forum participants explored such issues as the skills needed for successful public servants in the 21st century and how to achieve the 50 percent mark for women in public service by 2050. The women identified mentoring and training needs. They discussed how to establish and sustain an international network of leaders and generate new insights on women's political leadership roles.

Working in alignment with other leading organizations and institutions in the U.S. and around the world, the project plans to:

*Convene a series of global conversations and launch partnerships to help educate and train women to enter the public sector with the strategic leadership skills, energy and commitment required to tackle global challenges.

Create intensive training and mentoring opportunities for emerging and aspiring female leaders.

Establish and sustain a vibrant international network of such leaders.

Generate new, cross-culturally valid insights on women’s political leadership.

A key part of this effort will be summer institutes for women identified as leaders in their part of the world. The first institute will be held at Clinton’s alma mater, Wellesley. The State Department will fund the travel costs of 40 women from Africa and the Middle East.

“We hope they will learn more about our democratic systems and rule of law,” Clinton told USA Today.

In addition, the State Department will be offering grant money to institutions that research the effects women have on building public policy.

In addition, program coordinators are working to make an online database of women working in public service who are willing to mentor and guide young women as they begin their careers.

Theresa Minton-Eversole is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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